Finding the best water for your amphibian can be a daunting task. With pH levels, minerals, and water hardness, it’s easy to feel uncertain whether or not you’re providing your pet with the best water.
Have no fear, I’m here to help. I’ll share some basic knowledge about water and, of course, amphibians. By the end of this guide, you’ll be confident you’re providing a good, clean source of water for your pet frogs.
It boils down to a few factors – toxins, pH levels, and minerals. Toxins in water are things like chlorine, ammonia, and excessive heavy metals that are harmful to amphibians. The pH levels (the measure of alkalinity and acidity) should be neutral. Finally, ensure the water is not void of naturally-occurring minerals.
But don’t let the previous paragraph oversimplify this topic. It’s important to understand how the different elements affect amphibians and what you can do to provide the best water conditions.
This guide is mainly geared towards frogs and toads but it applies to most amphibians as well. Having said that, all amphibians are different, and optimal water conditions may vary depending on the species you’re caring for. Still, this guide covers most amphibians, not just frogs!
Why Amphibians Need Clean Water
Before we uncover the optimal water source for amphibians, we need to understand why it’s important in the first place. To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at amphibians.
Most amphibians not only breathe through lungs but they breathe through their skin as well . Amphibians have a thin, membranous skin containing a complex network of blood vessels where respiratory gases are diffused.
To put it simply, absorb oxygen in the water that comes in contact with their skin. As you might have guessed, toxins can be absorbed too.
Chlorine, pesticides, heavy metals, and chloramine are detrimental to amphibians. Because of this, it’s important to provide them with clean, toxin-free water.
Tap water, depending on where you live, might contain chloramine and other chemicals. We will take a look at the common sources of water in the section below and determine which is best and how to condition water to make it suitable for amphibians.
The Qualities of Good Water for Amphibians
Now that we know why clean, toxin-free water is important, let’s take a look at the water qualities which are optimal for amphibians. Aside from removing harmful toxins, the pH levels and water hardness, or minerals, are the main contributing factors.
pH stands for “Potential of Hydrogen” and refers to the measure of alkalinity and acidity of water. These levels are measured on a scale of 1 – 14.
Lower numbers mean the water is high in acidity while higher numbers mean the water is more alkaline or “basic”. Water with a pH of 7 is considered neutral, which is the preferred and recommended level for most amphibians.
This can fluctuate within 1 point up or down and, for the most part, will prove habitable for your pets. Some species prefer a pH around 6.5 but the general consensus amongst hobbyists is this; A neutral pH level (between 6.5 – 7.5) is optimal for most amphibians.
You’ve probably heard people mention “hard water” or “soft water.” When someone refers to the hardness, they’re talking about the overall mineral content. The mineral most associated with hard water is calcium. Soft water has fewer minerals while hard water has more. Finally, hardness is measured in degrees of hardness or “dGH”.
There is very little research on the effects of water hardness on amphibians. A study conducted by M.T. Horne and W. A. Dunson in 1995 shed some light on the effects of pH, naturally-occurring metals, and water hardness for wood frogs and Jefferson salamander larvae 
The objective: test the effects of those water conditions over a period of 7 days and 28 days. Hard water increased the wood frog’s survivability while soft water had a negative effect.
While these findings suggest hard water is better, that’s not exactly the case. This study was conducted with the reproduction of larval amphibians in mind. It also doesn’t specifically target water hardness.
pH and naturally-occurring metals were variables as well. Regardless, water with no minerals can have a negative effect on amphibians and it’s not something they naturally live in.
Perhaps the best method to determine the preferred water hardness of your amphibian is to examine an accurate water-hardness map. Research the species you’re keeping to find their native location and learn what types of water they live in. Is it soft water or water high in minerals?
If you’re unable to find sufficient data for your amphibian, I suggest using slight water hardness between 2 – 3.5 grains per gallon. Amphibians tend to do well in soft water or “slightly hard water” around 2 dGH. The best method for testing water hardness is to get a digital water quality meter. They are cheap and, more the most part, accurate.
Do not use water softeners that replace calcium and magnesium with sodium chloride! Hard water minerals, in small amounts, are good for amphibians and so are salts. But replacing calcium and magnesium with salt (sodium chloride) can lead to a dehydrated amphibian.
Common Water Sources for Pet Frogs
At this point, we know why toxin-free water is important and we have an understanding of optimal pH levels, salts and minerals, and water hardness. Now let’s look at different sources of water and determine whether or not they are suitable for amphibians.
No matter which source you get water from, it’s a good idea to test the water before placing your amphibian into it. This can be accomplished by using an aquarium water test kit. It’s an inexpensive way to test the water and ensure your pets are in a safe environment.
API is a trusted brand and their freshwater master test kit tests for ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites as well as measures the water’s pH levels. If, however, you need to test the water for a different chemical like ammonia, you will need to find a different test kit.
Whether or not your tap water is safe for amphibians largely depends on where in the world you live. Many cities monitor their water quality regularly but it’s important to remember that this water is intended for human usage.
Chemicals like fluoride and chloramine are used to purify water and, in small doses, are considered safe for human consumption but they can be harmful to amphibians, especially fully-aquatic frogs.
I suggest calling your city to find out everything that goes into their water supply. One chemical to watch out for is chloramine. Unlike chlorine, which dissipates over a short period of time, chloramine remains in the water for longer.
Since chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, you have a few options in removing it from your tap water. Amphibian-safe water conditioners claim to remove chloramine while boiling water for 20 minutes is said to remove it as well.
If your water just has chlorine in it, you don’t need a water conditioner at all. All you need to do is let the water sit out for 24 hours and the chlorine will evaporate.
You can speed up the process by aerating the water. A circulating pump or literally stirring the water will create air bubbles that help carry chlorine to the top of the water and into the air.
There is not a cut-and-dry answer for this one since the quality of well-water, much like tap water, depends on the area you live in. The only sure-fire way is to test your well-water and adjust the pH and water hardness as needed.
Some people shock treat well water with chlorine, putting it into the same bracket as municipal tap water.
If you do have well water, you or your family members probably know what is in the water.
Distilled water is essentially 100% water with zero impurities and no minerals. Having pure water is great in some cases but amphibians need water with trace minerals and a neutral pH level.
Because of this, I do not recommend distilled water unless you reconstitute the water with minerals or you’re using it in a misting or fogging system.
- Great for misting/fogging systems
- Don’t use it for fully aquatic species
You can use calcium chloride and magnesium sulfate, as well as other commercial products, to add minerals back into the distilled water. This will increase the water hardness and in most cases, it will affect the pH levels too.
As always, be sure and test the water before introducing your amphibian to it. Some people have resorted to making their own mixture of minerals but because I have not tested these ‘recipes’ I will not suggest them here.
In short, distilled water is good for misting because it won’t leave calcium deposits on a glass terrarium. Because it’s not your frog’s main source of water, they’ll be fine.
Using bottled water is, for the most part, safe for amphibians. Toxins are removed through a series of filtration systems like “activated carbon filters” and “anion exchange water softening treatment”. Reverse osmosis is even listed as one of the methods used by many of the top name-brand companies.
Once cleaned, minerals like calcium and magnesium are added back into the water. Some companies even claim their water is neutral in pH or slightly alkaline. Don’t trust them.
That all sounds great but companies stretch the truth and flat-out lie in some cases. During my research on bottled water, I came across an interesting video that tests the pH levels of a handful of different bottled waters.
The results aren’t terrible but they’re far from perfect. The video, while not pertaining to amphibians, is closely related and definitely worth watching.
I won’t pretend to know everything about reverse osmosis and how it works but the basics are this: Pressure is used to force water through a semi-permeable membrane (a barrier), leaving behind the contaminants.
It’s not 100% successful at removing bacteria but it’s a better option than the activated carbon filters used in most household water filters.
The water that comes out is very clean. Unfortunately, it’s too clean for amphibians because most of the minerals have been removed too. Reverse Osmosis can be a great option if you reconstitute the water by adding minerals into it.
Like activated carbon filters, reverse osmosis is a barrier filtration system. In fact, there are several filters in a reverse osmosis system. So, eventually, the quality of clean water decreases. Due to this, distilled water is regarded as a superior product.
RO water can be another great source for misting systems or foggers.
Boiling water is an age-old method used to purify water. When done properly, boiling water kills most pathogens and bacteria. It does not remove heavy metals like lead, fluoride, and arsenic. For this, you’ll need a barrier-based filtration system like activated carbon or reverse osmosis.
In the last paragraph, I said “boiling water kills most pathogens and bacteria”, but, contrary to popular belief, water doesn’t need to be boiled to remove disease-causing organisms.
Pasteurization kills most water-borne pathogens and only requires raising the water temperature to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Maintaining this temperature for 30 minutes is a common method.
Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, pathogens aren’t the only thing amphibians need to worry about. Chemicals like chlorine and chloramine won’t disappear during the pasteurization process.
Boiling water for a full 20 minutes is the most common method for removing chlorine and chloramine and even that has mixed reviews.
Chloramines are derivatives of ammonia and chlorine and they’re a bit more difficult to remove. I recommend buying an ammonia test kit if you’re considering boiling water tap-water containing chloramine.
On a good note, boiling water does not remove minerals! And this should go without saying but allow the water plenty of cooling time before using it.
Aside from the process of collecting and storing it, rainwater is a great source of water for amphibians. It depends on how you obtain the rainwater too.
Avoid collecting rainwater runoff from sources treated with chemicals. Nowadays, farmers spray their crops with pesticides and other chemicals, so using a bucket to scoop rainwater from a puddle near farmland is a bad idea.
My suggestion is to construct a tarp or similar structure, using it to funnel the rainwater into a bucket. Air pollution may impact rainwater . Despite this, it’s still considered one of the best sources of water for amphibians.
Pond, River & Lake Water
While there are likely thousands of amphibians living in ponds, rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water in your local area, most keepers, myself included, discourage using these sources for your captive amphibians. Mostly due to waterborne pathogens, parasites, and bacteria.
“Why not?” You might ask. You see, if your pet tree frog is from a tropical climate in Central America, and you live in New York, your frog is not adapted to your local environment. Adding NY pond water into your pet’s terrarium will likely introduce unseen parasites. A native species can handle those parasites because they’re adapted to the environment. Your pet likely cannot.
For this reason, I encourage you to avoid collecting water from ponds, lakes, and streams.
Amphibian-safe Water Conditioners
At this point, we’ve covered the most common sources of water and looked at a few methods for adjusting pH levels and minerals to the optimal levels. Now let’s look at a great option for treating tap water.
A number of companies make amphibian-safe water conditioners. They remove chloramines, nitrites, chlorine, and ammonia. They also add electrolytes and helpful ions to hydrate your pets.
These products are considered a “must-have” item for everyone keeping reptiles and amphibians.
Grab a bottle at your local pet store and squirt some into your tap water to instantly remove chloramines, chlorine, and other harmful toxins. Hold on, friend. Don’t squeeze half the bottle into the water all willy-nilly; read the directions first and be precise when measuring the correct portions.
The Best Water Source for Pet Amphibians
It’s difficult to say which is best. We know that straight tap water is bad a choice because it almost always contains chlorine, which is bad. Local pond water is a no-no, and collecting rainwater is impractical.
I’ve used tap water and well water treated with a water conditioner like ReptiSafe. Both sources have worked well for me. In addition to this, distilled water or RO water are preferred for misting systems and foggers because they don’t leave behind calcium residue.
Most hobbyists avoid distilled and RO water as the main source of their pet’s water because they’re lacking trace minerals, which are important for your amphibian’s health.
For captive amphibians, quality water is just as important as a proper diet, temperature, and humidity. But don’t let water quality stop you from buying your first amphibian. With a few cheap tools and the knowledge you’ve learned here, you can provide your amphibians with safe, clean water.
In summary, using toxin-free water is essential. Amphibians have semi-permeable skin, which allows things to pass through (including harmful chemicals). This is why water quality is important. Amphibians generally prefer soft water with natural minerals.
- The Encyclopedia of Amphibians. Gardners Books, 2000., p. 78
- Horne, M. T., and W. A. Dunson. “Toxicity of Metals and Low pH to Embryos and Larvae of the Jefferson Salamander, Ambystoma Jeffersoniannum.” Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, vol. 29, no. 1, 1995, pp. 110–14. Crossref, doi.org/10.1007/BF00213095.
- Uchiyama, Ryunosuke, et al. “The Impact of Air Pollutants on Rainwater Chemistry during ‘Urban-Induced Heavy Rainfall’ in Downtown Tokyo, Japan.” Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, vol. 122, no. 12, 2017, pp. 6502–19. Crossref, doi.org/10.1002/2017JD026803.